woman in black tank top in front of barbell at gym

In an Exercise Rut? Try This Daily Training Practice

Have you ever been in an exercise rut? One where you just can’t get excited to work out no matter what you do? I’m going to let you in on a daily training method to bust out of it.

Yes, I’m asking you to train more when the idea of any amount of training at all sounds about as appealing as a root canal. However, this completely painless training takes no more than a couple of minutes per day and can be done while you drive, from your bed, or just about anywhere.

What is this sorcery that can help rekindle your love for fitness?

Gratitude practice.

A gratitude practice is one of the best ways to break out of a rut, and I know from experience.

A while back, I hit a rut. I’d had a pretty good run at the gym leading up to it—I was frequently achieving personal bests, pushing myself hard, and feeling pretty great.

For various reasons (stress, adulting, yada yada yada), my performance tanked in spite of consistent efforts. I felt tired and slow, and my inner monologue was one of frustration and self-blame:

“You need to find more time to work out, Kim.”

“No wonder this happened—you haven’t prioritized mobility and skill work.”

“You need to lose 5 pounds.”

Luckily my thoughts didn’t spin me into a cycle of overtraining (in fact, I dialed it back, and you should consider the same if you are feeling this way). Still, eff that noise! Why was I so savage toward myself over something that’s supposed to be fun?

After a few weeks of feeling bleh, I found clarity. I realized that, even in a rut, my body does some pretty amazing things. I show up to the gym every day and work hard, and that alone is something to be proud of. I started my fitness gratitude practice that very day.

Each morning, after my workout, I take a minute to reflect on at least one positive feeling that came from my workout. Sometimes, it’s the pride I feel when I hit a big lift. Some days, I’m grateful for starting my day by laughing with my gym family. I just focus on something positive, other than how exercise makes my body look or whether I was the fastest or the slowest to complete the workout each day.

Does it sound a little ridiculous? Maybe. But science has my back on this one.

Benefits of Gratitude Daily Training

Quite a few studies have highlighted the positive effects of gratitude.

In a 2017 study from the University of California, Berkeley, 293 adults who were voluntarily seeking mental health services were randomized into 3 groups.

  • The first group was asked to write weekly gratitude letters to others for 3 weeks.
  • The second group was asked to journal their feelings, including those about negative experiences.
  • The third group served as a control.

All participants attended counseling sessions with a trained professional and were re-assessed both 4 and 12 weeks after the writing assignments ended.

So, what did the researchers find? Compared to the other groups, the gratitude group reported significantly better mental health after 4 and 12 weeks. The gratitude group also expressed fewer negative words and emotions in their writings, compared to the journaling group.

If that doesn’t surprise you, this will BLOW your MIND. Using brain scans, researchers from this study were able to connect higher levels of gratitude with increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain (1).

In other words, gratitude may actually rewire your brain for happiness, although more studies are needed to know for sure.

What’s more, a gratitude practice is a great way to honor the intrinsic rewards of exercise. Sometimes, exercise ruts can stem from too much focus on extrinsic rewards, like compliments or a number on the scale. Studies suggest that focusing more on intrinsic rewards (such as a sense of accomplishment) can increase the chances of positive, long-term behavior change.

Now, I’ll admit that a gratitude practice can seem a bit foreign or unnatural if you’ve never done it before. I distinctly remember feeling a bit like Stuart Smalley from SNL when I first started my daily training. Don’t give up—no one else is watching you!! Not to mention, gratitude practice gets much easier with practice and is very much worth the effort. 

Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live looking in mirror, with caption "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Are you ready to begin your daily training?

Tips for Starting your Gratitude Daily Training

Here are some tips to get you started with your fitness gratitude practice.  

Pair it Up

Tie your daily training to another activity that you consistently do with very little thought. Examples include stretching after your workout, driving home, or showering. This practice has been referred to as “habit stacking” by authors SJ Scott and James Clear, or “anchoring” by psychologist and author BJ Fogg.

Be Patient

Remember that UC Berkeley study on thank you letters? The greatest benefits on mental well-being were seen 12 weeks after the intervention ended! Try to stay consistent with your gratitude practice, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working right away (1). 

Cast a Wide Net

Your gratitude can extend far beyond your own strength and achievements. Did you see friends? Did someone help you put your equipment away? Did you make it to the gym early every day? If it made you feel happy, it counts. 

Write it Down

It’s not absolutely necessary to keep a formal gratitude journal, but I recommend it if at all possible. Writing down my thoughts keeps me from defaulting to the same 1-2 points after each workout and allows me to see exactly how much joy I get from my routine. It also feels really good to reflect on these positive thoughts every now and again.

But what if you can’t write it down? What if thinking about your gratitude while you drive home is the best way for you to stay consistent? Stick with that. It’s better to do it in your head than to not do it at all.  

Now I’d love to hear from you! In what ways do your workouts inspire gratitude? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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